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Adverse Childhood Experiences Reported by Adults

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) include verbal, physical, or sexual abuse as well as family dysfunction (an incarcerated, mentally ill, or substance-abusing family member, domestic violence, and absence of a parent due to divorce or separation).

Chart: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Reported, 2009 — 0: 40.6%; 1: 22.4%; 2: 13.1%; 3: 8.8%; 4: 6.5%; ≥5: 8.7%. Adult respondents aged ≥18 years from Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Washington. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have been linked to a wide range of health outcomes in adulthood including substance abuse, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and premature mortality.

Using the 2009 ACE module of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to examine whether a history of ACEs was common, 26,229 adults were interviewed in 5 states- Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Washington. The MMWR report on ACEs among U.S. adults summarizes the results of that analysis. The module consisted of 11 questions that yielded 8 categories of ACEs (verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, household mental illness, household substance abuse, domestic violence, parental separation/divorce and incarcerated family members). Respondents were asked to refer to the time period before they were 18 years of age when answering questions.

Overall, 59.4% of respondents reported having had at least one ACE while 8.7% reported five or more ACEs. Given the high prevalence of ACEs, additional efforts are needed at the state and local level to reduce and prevent childhood maltreatment and associated family dysfunction in the US, and further the development and dissemination of trauma-focused services to treat stress-related health outcomes associated with ACEs.

The most common ACEs were:

  • Separated or divorced parents
  • Verbal abuse
  • Family member with depression or mental illness
  • Witness of domestic violence
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse

Differences by gender

Men and women reported similar prevalence for having grown up with a mentally ill household member (22.0% for women, 16.7% for men) and growing up with a substance-abusing family member (30.6% for women, 27.5% for men). A difference between men and women was observed in the ACE category of sexual abuse, where women reported more than twice as many experiences as men (17.2% for women, 6.7% for men).

Differences by race/ethnicity

Black, non-Hispanic respondents had the lowest prevalence of each ACE category among all racial-ethnic groups. However, compared to all racial-ethnic groups Black non-Hispanics reported higher prevalence of having had an incarcerated family member (12.9%) and experiencing parental divorce (37.9%). Compared to Whites, Hispanics more frequently reported physical abuse (14.6% for Whites, 19.8% for Hispanics), witnessing domestic violence (15.1% for Whites, 21.7% for Hispanics), and having an incarcerated family member (6.2% for Whites, 9.5% for Hispanics).

These findings reinforce that adverse childhood experiences are common across racial/ethnic groups and states, further reinforcing the need to expand evidence-based child abuse prevention programs such as home visiting and parent education.

Chart: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Among Adult Respondents by Race/Ethnicity; 5 States, 2009 — White, non-Hispanic – 0: 41.7%; 1: 22.0%; 2: 12.7%; 3: 8.7%; 4: 6.0%; ≥5: 8.9%. Black, non-Hispanic – 0: 37.3%; 1: 27.0%; 2: 13.8%; 3: 8.9%; 4: 8.0%; ≥5: 4.9%. Hispanic – 0: 35.7%; 1: 23.5%; 2: 12.9%; 3: 10.3%; 4: 8.6%; ≥5: 9.1%. Other, non-Hispanic: 0: 37.8%; 1: 18.2%; 2: 16.4%; 3: 8.4%; 4: 7.6%; ≥5: 11.7%. Adult respondents aged ≥18 years from Arkansas, Louisians, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Washington. Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding. Other, non-Hispanic includes: Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, other race, multi-race. Data Source: Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

Data Source

CDC. Adverse Childhood Experiences Reported by Adults — Five States, 2009. MMWR 59(49);1609-1613.

More Information

  • Page last reviewed: June 3, 2011
  • Page last updated: December 30, 2010
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
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